Woodman: Japanese verbs, Dutch icemen and motivational gurus
When you sit down for a Zoom chat with a Swansea goalkeeper before the play-offs, you expect to talk about a few things: pressure, expectation, the possibility of penalties. You don't expect to talk a
When you sit down for a Zoom chat with a Swansea goalkeeper before the play-offs, you expect to talk about a few things: pressure, expectation, the possibility of penalties.
You don't expect to talk about Japanese verbs, books about Dutch icemen and motivational gurus.
Freddie Woodman, however, is not your ordinary stopper.
"When I first got into the academy set-up at Crystal Palace, I remember my dad pulled me to one side and said: 'Look, you either do this properly, or you don't do this at all'," Woodman tells Sky Sports.
"From that moment on my goal in life was to become a professional footballer. But it wasn't just about being a footballer. When I was younger I made a decision that if I'm training my body every day in goal, that I need to train my mind too.
"I spoke with Eddy Jennings, a close friend of mine who is at Bristol Rovers now, and I told him I wanted to work on my mind. He introduced me to Steve Black."
Black is the legendary fitness and motivational coach who worked with, among many others, England rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson. One afternoon in his company changed Woodman's entire approach to his career and his life.
"My first meeting with him was meant to be a half-hour coffee, but I ended up staying and talking to him for five hours," Woodman remembers. "I've never been in someone's company where everything he was saying blew my mind.
"I'd never read a book before, and he told me to pick one up. Me and him call it 'Kaizen'. It's a Japanese word that means continuous improvement. That has stuck with me since I was a young lad, to continually improve as a person, and hopefully as a footballer."
Education and football has not always been the most comfortable mixture, and even talking about things like reading has previously seemed a taboo topic in the working-class game. Woodman, now 24 and on loan at Swansea from Newcastle, hopes it is a culture that is permanently changing.
"I remember in the youth team I'd get called 'busy' for doing certain things, and people would laugh at stuff I was doing if I was doing extra stuff," he says. "It was sort of frowned upon.
"But it all goes back to what my dad says. 'Do it properly or don't do it at all'. I've always wanted to maximise every single day, and improve every single day.
"Now it's becoming a lot more acceptable, and it should be acceptable if you want to get better as a person. If you want to read and do extra, it's good for yourself and for the people around you.
"I'm actually reading a book at the moment called 'Happy Sexy Millionaire', which has just come out. But the book I most recently finished was about a guy called Wim Hof. He's called 'The Iceman' and he does all these breathing techniques and goes in ice cold water for ridiculous amounts of time.
"I just like reading about fascinating people. These people that think they are doing crazy things but are just pushing their body and minds onto bigger heights.
"I've worked with Blacky for a long time, and when I went away with England I was lucky to have a lot of psychologists there. There are more footballers taking that sort of route, football is evolving and it is becoming more acceptable. It's good you can speak to other professionals about this sort of stuff, especially at Swansea, there are a lot of people wanting to keep getting better and to keep improving."
Black has been one of the major influences of Woodman's life. There have been several other key figures, too: The PE teacher, Mr Bruce, with ties to Crystal Palace - who recommended him for training there before he got signed - his first club and his godfather, who we will come onto a little later.
But his main influence will always be his father - former goalkeeper Andy Woodman, who made more than 400 appearances for various clubs in the Football League during the 1990s and 2000s.
"He's the biggest influence I've had," says Woodman. "He will openly say himself he didn't really hit the heights he wanted to in his career. He knows he made a few mistakes and has drilled into me to not do the same.
"I speak to him every day. He rings me at 3pm after training without a doubt, asking how I got on in my session. He's brilliant for me, he's a brilliant dad and he's been a fantastic coach.
"I used to watch him all the time in goal, so it was natural he'd be my hero. I'd watch him closely with his training and everything he did. If he was taking me and my sister to school, he'd drop my sister off and then take me to training, which is ridiculous. I'd never go to school! I used to sit in the kit room and the changing room, so I've been around the full environment from a young age."
His dad was also a youth-team player at Crystal Palace, and he was there alongside a certain defender called Gareth Southgate. The two became close friends, and the current England manager happens to be Woodman's godfather.
Woodman spent a long time in the England youth setup playing at every level, although never quite directly crossed paths with Southgate, having made it to the Under-21s shortly after the boss had stepped up to take the senior role with the Three Lions in 2016.
Despite that, mutterings of nepotism made it difficult at first for Woodman at international level. But in a way it made him more determined to prove his worth - which he did in spades.
"With England it's always been strictly professional, and I haven't seem him too much out of football lately," says Woodman.
"It's great but you are forever associated with him being your godfather. I want to make a name for myself. At Newcastle I was always Andy Woodman's son instead of being Freddie Woodman, and in the England setup I was Gareth Southgate's godson, rather than being Freddie Woodman.
"Slowly I've had to change that by winning World Cups and Euros, putting in good performances and getting 70-odd England youth caps, Slowly the name has gone to Freddie Woodman as people realise I'm actually half decent!"
Half decent is an understatement. Woodman won the European Under-17 Championship in 2014, and the Under-20 World Cup in 2017. In the latter, he saved a penalty in the final and won the Golden Glove for being the tournament's best goalkeeper.
"My whole England journey was just such an incredible part of my football career," says Woodman. "From when I was in the under-15s through to the under-21s, I just seemed to be in a team surrounded by success. Then to go and win the World Cup in the way we did, the whole final game, the penalty save and the Golden Glove, it was easily one of the favourite moments in my career."
Woodman achieved more before the age of 21 than most manage in an entire playing career, but his mantra of continuous improvement will not let him rest on his laurels and see it as job done.
"It was massive, but it has gone now," he continues. "I'm focused on what's next. I'm at Swansea now trying to get into the Premier League. But that doesn't mean I can't carry those experiences in my career, and use them to help me in these big moments.
"It certainly helps coming into games like the play-offs. But as a footballer and a human being you want to be in these situations where you're tested, so you can see if you do come out on top. You want to believe you can put in big performances when the pressure is on.
"I love being in these situations that are full of excitement. For me there's already too much of a gap between the last game of the season and the first play-off game!"
Woodman is coming to the end of his second year on loan at Swansea. For the second season in a row they have also made the play-offs, and this season they made their way in with the best defensive record, as he kept 20 clean sheets on his way to securing the Sky Bet Championship Golden Glove award.
He has thrown himself into life in South Wales.
"I'll tell you one thing, South Wales is totally different from South Croydon!" he jokes. "I've loved every minute of living down here. The people are fantastic. I think they're probably bored of me saying it, but the city is great. You've got the beaches. Pretty much everything.
"I can see why people come down here and end up staying. It really is a fantastic place to live. Like I said, it's totally different from what I was used to in Croydon.
"I almost feel like I'm a different person to who I was at Newcastle two years ago. I've grown up a lot, and I've managed to get a lot of game time and experience. It's been a really successful time for me and for my development. I've loved being down here and I love the city. It's a really brilliant place to do your job and play football.
"I knew the history of the club. Getting promoted and winning the League Cup. I remember watching the film 'Jack to a King', and I was super excited when the club came in for me.
"I really wanted to come down here, and then to have the chance to do a second year, it's been amazing. I knew what I was coming back to, and I knew I'd grow even more. I'm super happy I've managed to spend two years here and, you never know, hopefully I can nick one more."
While his heart may now lie in Swansea, Woodman will return to Newcastle in the summer. Whether he is given a chance there behind Martin Dubravka and Karl Darlow in the pecking order remains to be seen.
Whatever does happen after the play-offs, you can guarantee Woodman will be unfazed by the next step.
"Football is so volatile and unpredictable, and so many different things can happen between now and the start of next season," he says.
"But the good thing about my mentality is I take every day as it comes. Currently I'm a Swansea player and that's it. When I go back to Newcastle I'll have the same mentality I had coming here. I'll train and try to be No 1, and if that doesn't happen I'll work hard and keep trying to improve.
"Newcastle have fantastic goalkeepers. I've worked with Martin and Karl for a good amount of time now and they're two of my closest friends. If I can put myself up against top goalkeepers then I can only improve, because it's good to have a competitive goalkeeping group. It makes it exciting.
"To play in the Premier League would be a dream come true. Especially because me and my dad have a little bet going on about trying to reach 500 league games. I'm close to 150 now, so I've got a way to go yet.
"But he says Premier League games count as double! So that will help me catch up to his 500 quicker than I would in the Championship."
The Premier League is one dream, to finally make the step up to the full England squad would be the other. The EFL to the top flight, to the international stage has become a well-trodden path.
"I remember looking at it with my dad when I was younger, before I had made any loan moves, and looking at Joe Hart's path, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope," says Woodman. "They had all played in the Football League and gone through the stages I have. I played in League Two, I went up to Scotland. All of those goalkeepers have had loans.
"I speak to Dean Henderson quite regularly. Me and him had a good, healthy competitive relationship in the England setup. It does give you hope that one day, if I keep doing what I'm doing, that it can be me."
You certainly wouldn't bet against him.